Tens of thousands turned out in the streets of Gaza for Hamas’ 25th anniversary celebrations. Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the organization, has arrived in Gaza on what is believed to be his first-ever visit to the strip.
“I consider this moment my third birth, and I pray to God that my fourth birth will be the moment when all of Palestine is liberated,” Meshaal said about his visit, referencing his surviving an assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.
As he crossed into Gaza territory from Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, Meshaal reportedly cried as he fell to his knees and, after saying a traditional Islamic prayer, kissed the ground.
The streets of Gaza City were packed with cheering crowds as Meshaal arrived for his three-day tour. During the rule of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Meshaal was not allowed to use the Rafah border crossing.
Upon arriving, the Hamas chief went to see the remains of the car in which Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari was killed last month by an Israeli airstrike. Jabari’s assassination marked the beginning of an eight-day Israeli military operation in Gaza that killed some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal kisses a poster depicting late Hamas military commander Ahmed Al-Jaabari pasted on the remains of the car that he was riding in when he was killed in an Israeli air strike, at Rafah Crossing, in southern Gaza Strip December 7, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called Meshaal’s visit to Gaza “a fruit of the victory of the resistance over the occupation.”
On Saturday, Meshaal is scheduled to address a celebratory rally in Gaza City. A stage with a replica of a type of rocket Hamas has fired into Israel has been set up for the event. The streets of the city have been decorated with Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Meshaal’s visit will also include talks over reconciliation plans between Hamas and the Fatah movement. Fatah, which is now ruling parts of the West Bank, was ousted by Hamas from the strip in a democratic election in 2007.
Fatah agreed to take part in Hamas’ 25th anniversary celebrations in Gaza. “There is no reason why we should not participate with our Hamas brothers in the celebrations,” the Jerusalem Post quoted senior Fatah official Yehya Rabahas saying.
Thousands of masked Hamas fighters – armed with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and anti-aircraft weapons – have been called to protect their leader’s convoy.
Meanwhile, Israel must observe Mershaal’s visit without interfering, thanks to the recent truce agreement between Hamas and Tel Aviv that brought an end to the attacks on Gaza.
Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank, fled the Palestinian territory with his family after the 1967 Six Day War. He currently lives in Qatar and Egypt.
Hamas was founded in 1987, and is dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine. The US, the EU and Israel consider it a terrorist organization.
Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, ride horses in front of Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (center L) as he rides in a car beside senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (center R) in Gaza December 7, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (L) and senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gesture to the crowd from a car in Gaza December 7, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal holds the grandchild of late Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City December 7, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (2nd R) gestures to the crowd as he rides in a car beside senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (R) in Gaza City December 7, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)